Sept. 3, 2019 – During this stop, I was introduced to a team that helps steer families to the developmental and mental health services they need by providing comprehensive evaluations for children from birth through high school. This dedicated group staffs the developmental evaluation clinic, or DEC for short.

We began the visit with some coffee (always a welcome sight for me!), and I heard from each team member about the program and their unique roles within it. These licensed psychologists or postdoctoral interns have specialized training and provide three types of assessments: developmental evaluations (between two- and four-hour sessions with child and parent); school age-evaluations (six to eight hours of face-to-face time); and neuropsychological evaluations (four to eight hours of face-to face time) that assess cognitive functioning and problem solving, language development, motor skills, social development, adaptive skills, and emotional and behavioral status.

Learning about the Bayley Scale test for toddlers

It is impressive how this team seamlessly collaborates across Rady Children’s to coordinate care for kids. DEC is part of a number of multidisciplinary teams within the Hospital, addressing areas including hematology/oncology, cochlear implant, feeding, KidSTART and autism services. As Senior Director of Developmental Services Kristin Gist put it, “We have 14 departments working together and collaborating with each other. They do not work in silos because kids are not siloed.”

During our meeting, Kristin presented the team with a congratulatory balloon and special “thank you” chocolate bars to recognize the way they have modified their often-complex evaluation reports. The updates help to make the reports reader-friendly for parents and teachers while still communicating important data.

Next, I had the opportunity to be evaluated! Clinical psychologist Rene Barbieri-Welge administered part of the Bayley Scale evaluation given to infants and toddlers to gauge their development. The assessment tests skills including visual interest, abstract reasoning and perceptual ability. For example, toddlers are challenged to do things such as match shapes on a puzzle and, my favorite, follow two-step directions by launching a rubber duck from a spoon. I did great on that test!

Participating in the ADOS-2 assessment

I then headed to another room where clinical psychologist Ayala Ben-Tall administered part of the ADOS-2, which is the gold standard for diagnosing and assessing autism spectrum disorder. I participated in the toddler module, which looks at a child’s ability to participate in imaginary play, and to imitate play. In this case, we had a pretend birthday party for a baby using Play-Doh to make a cake. The person giving the assessment monitors how well the child follows the prompts and demonstrates skills such as reciprocal play and shared enjoyment.

My last stop was with clinical psychologist Ryan Kaner, who tested my skills with D-KEFS, a collection of neuropsychological assessments that measure executive functions such as memory, attention, multitasking, cognitive flexibility, organization and impulse control. The assessment I received is given to people from 8 years old to adults. I was presented with six different shapes with a word printed on each. My challenge was to figure out how to sort the pieces into two groups of three based on their similarities (such as by color or size). The first couple of groupings were easy, but then it got more challenging. I really had to flex my brain on this one!

Testing my brainpower with the D-KEFS assessment

I am so proud of this group and their dedication to the kids and families we serve. They work with parents during what can be an especially stressful time, such as finding out whether their child is dealing with a developmental delay or is on the autism spectrum. Through their years of experience and training, this team demonstrates clinical excellence not found anywhere else, and plays a crucial role in connecting families with therapies and interventions that address their children’s unique needs. Keep up the great work!